The First Lady Tradition Melania Trump Is Forgoing With Jill Biden

When Joe Biden is sworn in as America's 46th president on January 20, he and his family will participate in a number of ceremonies that date back almost as far as George Washington's time in office. Among them (per the official inaugural website): the procession to the Capitol, the oaths of office (by tradition, Kamala Harris will take hers first), the presidential address, signing the first documents of the administration, a luncheon, and a review of the troops. 

But the day will differ sharply from other inaugurals in a number of ways — some by necessity, some by choice. For instance, as a coronavirus-related health precaution, the festive and grand parties that usually take place in the evening will be replaced by a "Celebrating America" TV special hosted by Tom Hanks. And out of security cautions following the violence at the Capitol, the event will be closed to the public, and the area will be even more heavily guarded than usual. 

The choice part has all to do with the man who is departing the office. President Trump recently announced, "To all of those who have asked, I will not be attending the Inauguration on January 20." He then broke with tradition even further by planning to leave the White House for his Mar-a-Lago estate early Wednesday morning, rather than waiting to greet the new residents. Trump isn't the only member of his family breaking with honored tradition; First Lady Melania Trump is shattering some protocol of her own. 

Melania Trump has completely snubbed Jill Biden

The time-honored rituals of the inaugural day begin early in the morning, when the departing president and first lady greet the incoming president and his wife on the North Portico of the White House (via Mercury News). It's also traditional for the group to do a walk-through of the second- and third-floor living quarters, and for the first ladies to meet privately for a "tea and tour" in which they chat over a cuppa (via USA Today). The outgoing first lady then introduces the newcomer to the staff before both families leave together for the swearing-in ceremony. The courteous welcome-home gesture dates back more than half a century, when Bess Truman met with Mamie Eisenhower before their husbands made their transition (via Truman Library).

While the Trumps' early departure means they won't be meeting with the Bidens, Melania Trump could still have kept the tradition going by arranging a little personal time with her successor at some point. Not happening: Per CNN, she has not invited Dr. Jill Biden to the White House for even a glass of tap water, never mind tea. 

In fact, the first lady has had no contact with Dr. Biden at all since the election was certified. Incoming First Daughter Ashley Biden told the Today show that her mother has yet to hear from Melania Trump, and that no invitation has been extended: "No, I don't think they're doing the traditional protocol, which is unfortunate, but I think we're all okay with it." 

First ladies have traditionally set aside their differences

For Melania Trump, whose platform during her tenure was "Be Best," seems uncharacteristic. In the  farewell message she delivered just days before the inauguration, she called on Americans "to focus on what unites us, to rise above what divides us [and] to always choose love over hatred."

It's also jarring in light of the reception Melania Trump herself has received from the former first lady. CNN reports that Michelle Obama met with her successor for the traditional tea, and the two families did the honorary meeting on Trump's inaugural day. Michelle also told Melania to reach out to her anytime for help or advice. 

Until now, presidents' wives have always been able to keep at least an air of civility toward one another. A former Clinton staffer recalls that Hillary Clinton was "gracious and welcoming" to both Barbara and Laura Bush, despite their husbands' divisive campaigns (per The Mercury News). Even Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, who were famously unfriendly, managed a brief White House tour in keeping with polite tradition (via The Washington Post). Most recently, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush came together with a bipartisan message of hope in the midst of the pandemic (via Today): "Tonight, we stand with the people of the world ... We will continue to be here for one another, and we will get through this crisis together." Whether Melania Trump and Jill Biden will ever overcome this inaugural "tempest in a teacup" remains to be seen.